Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ben's Grandma Slice

I went to the Ben's pizzeria at the corner of Macdougal and W 3rd and had a grandma slice. This large, doughy, slice with plenty of cheese, tomatoes, and garlic is not the height of gourmet-ness. Not unbelievably high quality ingredients here. But it's addictive and tasty and makes me want to go back and eat it again. That's high praise in my book.

Stars: 4/5

Magnolia's, Sweet Revenge


I tried Magnolia's on the upper west side. I'd of course heard a lot about it but hadn't actually ried it, even though I've tried a lot of other cupcakeries. Shockingly bad. Wow. The frosting tasted authentically chalky -- way too much confectioners' sugar is all I can surmise. Yudge.

Stars: 1/5

Sweet Revenge:

I recently tried this new bakery in village on Carmine. First, its cupcakes look beautiful, with carefully styled frosting and streaks of colored food gel in it. Second, they are quite tasty. I had the crimson, which had creamcheese frosting, a raspberry theme, and raspberries baked into the middle. They serve it to you in a cup, and give you a flat wooden spoon to eat it with.  Excellent.

Stars: 4/5

Andre's Hungarian Pastry Shop, Cafe Noi


This rustic little Hungarian coffee shop has a sense of warmth and charm that is great all by itself. It has table service, but I decided to just grab one of these plastic-wrapped pastries and go. For only $1.50, these takeout-only items are a bargain. I got one of their kugelhopf slices (also known as babka). It was a big hunk of sweet bread with a crispy crust, which teeth tear into to reveal golden sugar and raisins. Delectable.

Stars: 5/5

Cafe Noi:

This is a pretty simple coffee shop with a tasty danish. Tat's all that I had. And it was good!

Stars: 4/5

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ronnybrook, Five Points, Abraco, Square Meal, Dhaba

Bunch of quick updates.

Ronnybrook Milk Bar in Chelsea Market - fantastic breakfast food items and shakes (not too thick, delicious...try the blueberry)

Stars: 5/5

Five Points - excellent brunch. Try the churros with Mexican hot chocolate, and the mac and cheese.

Stars: 5/5

Abraco - very nice simple entrees, mainly because they use excellent olive-oiley bread. Try their french onion soup (vegetarian!)  and their focaccia sandwiches. Also, their frittatas are creamy and nice. And their coffee is delicious.

Stars: 5/5

Square meal - delicious upper east side place with very nice cheese scones to start. I had an excellent grilled cheese (they grill it in olive oil). I'm docking it a little for their relative dearth of vegetarian options.

Stars: 4/5

Dhaba - decent new Indian food joint on Lex between 27 and 28 by the makers of Chola. I had a pani puri which was a little lacking in the sugar element and a channa bhatura where the channa was a little dry.

Stars: 3/5

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I went to Scott Conant's Scarpetta last night, located on W 14th between 8th and 9th, closer to 9th. It's received a lot of good press in recent weeks, with The Times giving it three stars.

Scarpetta gives the impression of a trendy bar setting juxtaposed against the white-washed brick walls of a old New York warehouse. Rows of exposed filament lightbulbs stand encased within glass boxes hanging from the ceiling. I saw something similar to this style at Macondo as well, and I get the feeling it's a popular look these days.

My bread basket was introduced as having salami in it, so I told the waiter I was vegetarian, and he brought me back a vegetarian version of the bread basket. The breads were decent but did not have the immense flavor or amazing addictive quality that the best breads have. The spreads were interesting, however. A mascarpone-butter was light and enjoyable. An eggplant spread was ok, and a citrus olive oil was fresh-tasting.

For my dishes, I ordered a polenta with a fricasee of truffled mushrooms. The mushrooms were in a light sauce in a separate stainless-steel pot, and the waiter poured some of them poured over the polenta. The polenta itself was creamy and tasty, and the mushrooms were cooked well. Well done for what it was, but ultimately kind of bland.

This was my basic complaint with the famous spaghetti pomodoro as well. It comes in a light basil sauce. In my opinion, the fat spaghetti could have been cooked a touch less. The simple red sauce was so light it didn't have adequate savor. A little red pepper gave it its only bite. Again, decent comfort food, but I kept eating hoping for some greater satisfaction, and I didn't get it. Basically, too bland. Olive oil and pasta is of course not going to taste bad, but it did not wow me.

The service at Scarpetta was professional and courteous, the prices decent but not great, and the room filled with 20-40 yr old yuppies. Overall, like L'Impero before it, a nice place (though much hipper than L'I), but not one which I'm excited about revisiting.

Stars: 3/5

Monday, August 4, 2008

Red Hook Eats: Soccer Fields, Steve's Key Lime Pies, Baked

I went to Red Hook over the weekend and explored some of its famous culinary destinations.

Soccer field vendors:
The ballfields had the famous crowds, and the food was tasty. I had an excellent Chilean cheese empanada -- though how could one really go wrong with deep fried dough and cheese? It did have a delicious very spicy salsa, though. Cheese pupusas were similarly tasty, though the vegetable ones lacking cheese were a little too dry for my taste. Though they're good, they are not worth an hour's wait, though.

Stars: 4/5

Steve's Key Lime Pies

Steve's KLP are located in a quaint corner near the water with catchy kitschy signs and an boat-turned-garden near the entrance to its location. The key lime pie is highly limey and tasty, but the real star is the swingle, which is a 4" pie dipped in chocolate and frozen. Fantastic.

Stars: 5/5 on the strength of the swingle


Baked is a famous bakery that extends its reach over all New York now through various distributors, like Cafe Royale in the W. Village. I tasted a salty caramel-chocolate cake, a peanut butter whoopie pie, and a chocolate chip cookie. The frosting on the cake and whoopie pie were too hard, something later explained by a server who told us that the cakes had come out of the refrigerator not much earlier. This is not really a good excuse, but it's something of an explanation. In any case, I found the frosting too buttery for my taste. On the cake, the cake was too clumped together and not fine-grained enough.

However, the chocolate chip cookie was marvellous. Of the thicker, well-cooked variety, it had a nice toasty outside and a crumbly-to-soft interior. The chocolate was of high quality, and the overall cookie experience was in the "best" league of the city - not surprising since one of my other top choices, Chocolate Bar, used to be co-owned by the owner of Baked. And Chocolate Bar carries many goods from Jacques Torres, who makes my third favorite chocolate chip cookie. So there are links to be found here...

Stars: 4/5 (for the cookie)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Da Andrea

After all the applause Da Andrea gets on CH, I decided to try out this W. Village restaurant. My tri-color salad was kind of bland, and, unforgivably, my penne pasta was seriously undercooked, definitely beyond "al dente" and into "al rigid." The sauce was nothing great either. My servers were nice and the bread decent, but that's about all the good stuff I can say about this place.

Stars: 2/5

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Subtle Tea

I had an ice tea at Subtle Tea the other day. Subtle Tea is located at Madison just north of 30th. It has a large array of teas, and I got to taste for free one of their chai lattes. You can add things to their lattes, and I sampled one to which they had added peanut butter. Fantastic.

I had a chocolate chai, which was refreshing and kind of addictive.

Stars: 4/5


I went to WD-50 the other night. In short, the mains were strange but interesting. Nothing I would go back for, except perhaps my eggs florentine (everyone else had the eggs benedict) which had two perfectly gelatinous yolks with a piece of crisped spinach sticking out of it. They went very well indeed with the fried hollandaise sauce sitting in neat cubes near them. The textures were interesting, and the tastes interacted really well together in my mouth.

The desserts were really stealing the show here, though. From the jasmine custard dessert with a sublime banana sorbet and pockets of caramel touched with earl gray powder to chocolate "packets" that look like ketchup packets, to be eaten with yuzu ice cream cubes, the desserts matched form with substance, and looked interesting and tasted great.

Stars: 3/5 for the main courses, 5/5 for the desserts

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Macondo is a spot in the lower-east side that I would describe as island-hip. Filled with finished-unfinished wood tables, concrete floors, transparent-filament bulbs enclosed in large glass globes, and open to the street, the pan-Latin upscale eatery evokes a feeling of staying at an island resort, but a design-savvy one.

Service was cheerful and reasonably prompt. The backless stools, though, are not best suited for comfort. Maybe they wanted to encourage a little intensity.

As far as the food, it's a tapas style system, and that goes for their excellent drinks (all of one of which I tried). Their cocktail list is inventive and extensive, and I had an avocado mezcal drink that tasted like a really well-balanced margarita, with a center of heavy soft slush.

For food, we had several items. Vegetarian arepas filled with spinach, goat cheese, onions, and tomatoes were served not in the sandwich version you might expect at the Caracas arepas bar, but instead as thick slices of arepa on a bed of salad. These were good but a little bready. Cheese croquettes were decent but came a little lukewarm. A mixed green "Quisqueya" salad with asparagus, almonds, and mixed greens was also good but nothing special. Perhaps the best entrees were the patatas bravas, which came nicely cooked in hearty cuts and with a tasty chili sauce (though they could have been a little more generous with the sauce) and the "Setas" vegetarian flatbread, with onions, mushrooms, membrillo, cheese, and pistachio. I enjoyed the dark nuttiness and complexity of the flatbread.

Overall, the food here was above average, and the cocktail I had was excellent, but you would really come here for the excellent atmosphere and an interesting menu that gives you access to a lot of Latin cuisine (including Spanish cuisine) in a small place.

Stars: 4/5

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Sacco slices of pizza

Sacco is a slice joint in Midtown West, on 9th ave. just north of 54th. It serves delicious slices particularly notable for the high stretchiness of the dough, the tastiness of the cheese, and the delicious-lookingness of the appearance. I did like the sauce too, but I felt it might have been a little bit too dark in taste, and so it reminded me just a little bit too much of Prego spaghetti sauce.

Stars: 4/5

Monday, July 14, 2008

Prune for Brunch

I had the famous brunch at Prune the other day. Since I went on a Saturday, it was not too crowded, and I got a seat (albeit at the bar) immediately.

Prune is a fairly-ordinary looking place, though not without charm. I ordered a glass of "almond milk," a substance derived from blending water with crushed almonds. It was mild and pleasant. I ordered stewed chickpeas with poached eggs for my main course. The chickpeas, made with tomatoes, were overall good but a little too vinegary for my taste. Also, I thought the portions overall a little small.

While I enjoyed brunch at Prune, it did not strike me as particularly special.

Stars: 3/5

La Esquina Cafe

La Esquina has been a trendy club in Soho for a while now. I ate recently at the attached cafe, which is less trendy, but also does not require reservations. I simply had their chile relleno, which is filled with little cheese and a lot of pumpkin. It's fine, but nothing special. The rice and beans served along with it could have been more exciting as well.

Stars: 3/5

Totonno's Coney Island

The Totonno's on Coney Island is considered one of the truly great old-school Manhattan pizzerias, and for historical value is in the same league as Di Fara's, Grimaldi's, and Patsy's in East Harlam (notwithstanding that this Patsy's pizza is above-average but not great).

Totonno's is located on Neptune Ave., a few streets away from the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island boardwalk, in a very spartan old-fashioned pizza restaurant. Decor is not emphasized.

We got a large pizza, half-plain and and half with peppers and onions. The basic consistency of the dough is satisfyingly chewy. The cheese was a little non-descript in flavor for my taste, but it was still good. The tomato sauce was mild but pleasant. This is a pizza that goes down easy and can stand eating over and over again. This is not an intensely pleasurable, decadent experience. It's more like a laid-back friend whose company at lunchtime is consistently enjoyable.

Stars: 4/5

The Chocolate Room

The Chocolate Room is an incredible chocolate-centered dessert cafe which serves cakes, cookies, ice cream, shakes, hot chocolate, and the like in a sleek if somewhat cramped Cobble Hill space (this is their second location; their first is in Park Slope). We started with a Valrhona chocolat sorbet, which was soft, served just at the right temperature, and had beautiful floral chocolate notes.

I tasted a small, thick, round, soft chocolate walnut cookie, which was moist and tasty. For a main course, we had a brownie sundae, probably the best of its type I have ever had. The brownie, which was warm and light, seemed an ethereal expression of chocolate that melded perfectly with the denser hot fudge beneath it, the cool refreshing vanilla ice cream above it, and the crowning, luscious whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top. All five layers together were a transporting sonata, a meditation on chocolate, cream, eggs, texture, and temperature that was transcendent.

That finished up the "meal," but there is so much more I want to try there. Perhaps the hot chocolate made with Guittard and bourbon vanilla, or the milkshakes, or the tantalizing-looking chocolate cake. But it is without a doubt that this place rocks.

Stars: 5/5

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I was excited to try Alloro, the new green-clad Italian restaurant in the Upper East Side, because I love Cacio e Pepe, its older sibling in the East Village, so much. Alloro is currently hidden behind a little construction, but forgiven that flaw, I was greeted with a snazzy green interior, replete with ruined-decadence chandeliers. The chairs are green, the floor is green, the walls are green. Even the proprietress's necklace is green.

This snazzy interior held a lot of great food. The bread was quite reminiscent of CeP. It's a little tough and heavy on the crust, while the interior softness seems all too insubstantial. It's kind of addictive. It came with a nice sundried tomato dipping sauce, nice and oily.

For appetizers, we ordered an spinach salad with toasted almonds and an immaculate balsamic vinegar. We also had an eggplant Parmesan, "traditional and revisited." This interesting dish consisted on one side of an eggplant Parmesan complete with heavy red sauce, eggplant tenderly cooked and the cheesiness just right. On the other side, a delectably chewy fried mozzarella was topped with a creamed eggplant a little suggestive of a baba ganouj, but somehow fluffier. It was topped by a small delicious Parmesan cracker.

Second courses consisted of a fusilli and a cannelloni. The chewy and fresh fusilli came in an arugula pesto that hit just the right notes of bitter and salty, and lay under a cloud of parmesan emulsion. The cannelloni (supposedly crispy, but actually unfortunately not so crispy) ensconced ricotta and mozzarella and lay in red sauce. Both dishes were moderately creative, in ways that enhanced rather than detracted from the flavor and texture of their dishes.

Dessert was a watermelon ice topped with a white chocolate mousse, and a bavarian cream. The mousse had a consistency a little bit like mascarpone, interrupted with chunks of white chocolate. The bavarian cream was colored dark and flavored of blueberries. It sat in a little pool of stark red wild berries and a berry sauce, and was topped with a lemon liqueur foam. Both desserts hit the mark really well.

The service was reasonable, and the price is right. Overall, the dinner was superb. In terms of craveability, my most important criterion, this is my favorite Italian in New York City right now.

Stars: 5/5

Friday, July 4, 2008


Alidoro Soho is a venerable sandwich shop whose ownership changed last year. It's a small place, with no frills, ordering at the counter, no utensils, no plates, and no glasses of water(only bottles).

It serves up craftsman-quality Italian sandiwches, each with its own name. They are all served cold, and tend to have three or four ingredients: often a cheese and/or meat, a couple of vegetables, and possibly some dressing.

I ordered a Valentino sandwich on white bread, which comes with smoked mozzarella, artichokes, sweet red peppers, and arugula. I added m bel paese cheese (a mild creamy cheese) and dressing, which is a variety of a balsalmic dressing.

The sandwich was excellent. It was prepared with care, and every ingredient tasted fresh and of high quality. The bread was properly crusty and delectable. The cheese was smoked and delicious. The red peppers were delicate and, yes, sweet, and the artichokes were fresh and marinated to a texture that yielded but not too quickly. The dressing was good, too, but perhaps a just a little much in the context of the other ingredients. That's my fault, though, since I added it onto the recipe.

Perhaps my only fault with the sandwiches is that while they are perfect for what they are, they really are awfully simple and perhaps a little lacking in spice. Also, they seemed a little small and not so filling.

All in all, though, an excellent shop.

Stars: 4/5


Batch is a West Village bakery started by the pastry chef, Pichet Ong, who started P*ong, the restaurant next door to Batch. P*ong specializes in integrating sweet flavors into otherwise-savory dishes.

Batch is a more straight sweet affair. I ordered a few different things. A chocolate chip cookie was crispy on the outside, but a too dry on the inside. A vietnamese coffee cake, made with condensed milk vietnamese coffee, was similarly a little too dry. A strawberry rice pudding was mild and aromatic but not sweet enough. A ginger cookie was unimpressive.

The dessert I really enjoyed and the clear standout of the group was the carrot salted caramel cupcake. Here the frosting was deliciously dense and multi-layered in flavor, while the cake's drier carrot-nature added a nice contrast.

Batch is not bad, but other than the cupcake I tried, it is nothing special.

Stars: 3/5

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Quick impressions: Sfoglia, Aquavit revisited, apizz

Sfoglia: Tasty but fairly forgettable Italian food served in a small, memorable rustic setting. I liked it, but not immensely, and was not pleased by the price. Stars: 3/5

Aquavit revisited: As excellent as ever. The goat cheese salad and salsify noodles are standouts, as was the rhubarb tasting, complete with spoon made out of rhubarb. The ambience is a stark and transporting Scandinavian and the service is attentive. Stars: 5/5

apizz: This lower-east side joint is recommended by so many Chowhounds for a reason. A sweet open kitchen constitutes the heart of the room, and the whole thing speaks elegant yet casual. A truffle oil flatbread pizza was delectable and the best dish we ate, and my mushroom risotto was excellent as well (though perhaps not as good as my friend's sage butter and pumpkin ravioli). I also loved the bread served with a wonderful marinara. A spinach salad was good but could have used more variety in texture. Stars: 5/5

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blue Hill

We had dinner at Blue Hill a few weeks ago. This restaurant, which also operates a farm and restaurant in Westchester, from which it sources many of its vegetables and meat, reminded me of a simple country meal artistically elevated in excellence. It's actually not simple at all, but that's its spirit.

The meal started with some delicious bread that my fellow diners and I kept gobbling down. The bread slid down right good with the addition of some soft-as-a-kiss fresh butter from a dairy farm (though not Blue Hill's). The bread was warm, and cut open with a knife and butter-stuffed was excellent.

An amuse bouche was fresh radish, still on a small stalk, and hung bulb-down in precious stands. These were fantastic radishes, crisp and vivid with the deliciousness of vegetable youth.

We had four courses, but I've forgotten one of them (though I remember liking it). The first course I remember was a beautiful asparagus salad, with slender white asparagus and a kind of pea puree or something like that on the plate. Beautiful ramps decorated the plate. The next course I recall was an incredible vegetarian farro, again in a medley of vegetable purees and touched with parmesan. The freshness of the vegetables was apparent. What I liked about it was the perfect texture of the farro, the bursting-with-flavor zest of the sauce, and an elegant presentation. It was characteristic of the dishes at Blue Hill -- elegant yet colorful both in taste and appearance. Dessert for me was a lovely chocolate bread pudding with banana ice cream. They went together surprisingly well.

Throughout service was professional and unobtrusive. All in all, Blue Hill was a first-class gourmet experience for vegetarians.

Stars: 5/5

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My favorite restaurants

I want to keep a very informal track of my favorite restaurants -- the ones that I actually crave and want to revisit here. I suppose in some sense these are the true 5-stars! These are the places I would take visitors without hesitation for really delightful food.

Eleven guaranteed blow-your-mind NYC food experiences:
Molten chocolate cake at the dessert truck
Shroomburger at Shake Shack
Pizza at Grimaldi's, well-done
Black and white milkshake at Stand
Red velvet cupcake at Buttercup Bakery
Sicilian slice at Artichoke
Chocolate croissant at Brasserie Cognac
Original sour cream apple walnut pie at Little Pie Co., warmed, served a la mode
Paneer Kati Roll at Kati Roll Co.
Honey latte at Second Stop

Clinton St. Baking Co. (for pancakes especially, also muffins) (LES)
The Smith (french toast, mac and cheese) (EV)
Jane (french toast) (WV)
Stanton Social (everything, esp. bomboloni) (LES)
Farm at Adderley (french toast, everything)
Buttermilk Channel (pecan french toast)
August (cast-iron dishes) (WV)
Sarabeth's (fresh muffins) (multiple locations)
Bocca Lupo (Brooklyn)
Telepan (bread basket) (UWS)
Five Points (bread basket, chocolate stuff, egg dishes) (EV)
Ronnybrook Milk Bar (cast iron eggs, croissant egg sandwich, roasted potatoes with garlic and butter, milkshakes) (Chelsea)
Moto (Williamsburg...delicious pancakes, donuts)
Taste (UES)
Corner Bakery (UES)
Olea (french toast, fresh chocolate croissants)
iCi (french toast)

Chocolates: Pierre Marcolini, Maison du Chocolat, Bespoke Chocolates, Kee's, Mondel's, Neuhaus, Martine's, Bespoke Chocolate (EV), Teuscher for champaign truffles (UES)
Chocolate Chip Cookies: Chocolate Bar, Jacques Torres, Baked, Petrossian's Cafe, David Burke and Donatella at Bloomingdale's
Brownie: Fat Witch, David Burke and Donatella at Bloomingdale's
Hot Chocolate: Dessert Truck, Grom (also try their affogato)
Chocolate Bread Pudding: Dessert Truck, Russ & Daughters (chocolate bagel pudding)
Chocolate Cake: Two Little Red Hens
Chocolate Gelato: Il Laboratorio di Gelato
Chocolate Sorbet: The Chocolate Room (Brooklyn)
Chocolate croissant: David Burke and Donatella at Bloomingdale's, Petrossian's Cafe, Bouley, Brasserie Cognac, Eli's (UES), Tarallucci e Vino
Chocolate milkshake (or milkshakes generally): Stand, Ronnybrook Milk Bar, Shake Shack

Iced Chocolate: Chocolate Bar
Chocolate Dumpling: Rickshaw Dumpling Bar
Molten Chocolate Cake: Dessert Truck

Ice Cream/Gelato:
Il Laboratorio di Gelato
Shake Shack
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
Otto (for the olive oil gelato)
Mr. Softee (sometimes it hits the spot)
Ronnybrook Milk Bar (blueberry milkshake is awesome)

Baked Goods:
Croissants - David Burke & Donatella at Bloomingdales, Petrossian's Cafe, Bouley, Brasserie Cognac, Almondine, La Tropezienne, Madeleine, Tarallucci e Vino
Cupcakes - Kumquat Bakery (Brooklyn - only at flea right now or else visit Korean restaurant Do Hwa in Manhattan), Sugar Sweet Sunshine (LES - pumpkin), Buttercup Bakery (midtown east - red velvet especially), Sweet Revenge (WV - red velvet especially, chocolate was just ok), Crumbs (certain flavors, like Baba Booey), Eleni's (peanut butter)
Apple Pie: Little Pie Co. (only hell's kitchen location - get the original apple pie)
Other pies: Grey Dog Coffee
Bomboloni: Sullivan St. Bakery, Dessert Truck, Grandaisy, Almondine
Bread: Sullivan St. Bakery, Almondine
Brunch coffee cakes, etc. - Telepan
Scones - Clinton St. Baking Co., Alice's Teacup
Red Velvet Cake - Smooch (it's in Brooklyn, and the cake's vegan too, but tastes amazing!), Buttercup
Cheesecake: Imported lemon-ricotta cheesecake from Bedford Cheese Shop
Hungarian Pastries (try the kugelhopf): Andre's Hungarian Bakery
Vegan - Babycakes, Cakelove, the place that makes desserts for Smooch (Ft Greene) and Curly's (EV) - try the vegan red velvet
Churros - Five Points
Doughnuts - Peter Pan, Doughnut Plant (some of their donuts, like their chocolate thing)
Macarons: Dessert Truck, Cafe Macaron (midtown), Maison du Chocolat, Tafu (midtown)
Coconut Macaroons: Baked (Red Hook or outlets)
Muffins - Second Stop (Williamsburg - try donut muffins)
Misc - Russ & Daughters (try the chocolate babka and the bagel pudding)
Cookies - for choc chip see chocolate section; otherwise Something Sweet (EV) has delicious hard cookies; Baked (Red Hook or served at Cafe Royale in WV) for its chocolate-covered coconut macaroons
Rice pudding - Rice to Riches
Cake - Busy bee cake at Black Hound (EV, which otherwise has some mediocre stuff); Mississippi Mud cake at Little Pie Co, tiramisu at Obika
Japanese: Minamoto Kitchoan (midtown - try red bean cake), Tafu
Key lime pie: Steve's Key Lime Pies (Red Hook)
Cannoli & other italian desserts - Ricotta stand at Brooklyn flea, Villabate (Bensonhurst), Rocco's on Bleecker

Sit-down Desserts:
Midscale dessert parlors: Chocolate Room (Park Slope & Court St) - brownie sundae, Serendipity's (good ice cream concoctions, frozen hot chocolate)
Innovative but still tasty - WD-50, Graffiti
Vegan: Kyotofu
Other: Chikalicious (EV) - beautiful, though portions are small, Gramercy Tavern, Perry St (try their pudding)

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery
Abraco for their sandwich of the day
Shake Shack for their vegetarian "burger" (two portabello mushrooms around a block of muenster cheese - and the whole thing's deepfried)
Num Pang - cauliflower and eggplant
Barnyard - vegetarian sandwiches
Obika - fresh mozzarella
Nha Troi - banh mi

The side salads at Square Meal are excellent

Locanda Verde (Tribeca)
Cacio e Pepe (EV) - esp. the signature cacio e pepe dish
Alloro (UES)
apizz (LES)
Perbacco (EV)
Supper (EV)
Celeste (UWS)
Obika - must try their fresh mozzarella dishes, tiramisu (Midtown East)
Spotted Pig - genuinely excellent gnudi, but it is a small portion and expensive for that
Bar Pitti (WV) - great salads and pasta
Tre - wonderful dishes and plating for reasonable prices. try the pasta primavera if they have it, and the tiramisu. (LES)
La Lanterna di Vittorio - beautiful garden in the back, delicious food, reasonable prices (WV)

Shake Shack

Cheap Gujurati: Gujurati Newsstand (but nonexistent service) at 6th and 37th
Somewhat less cheap Gujurati: Vatan
Standard N. Indian: Polash (Spanish Harlem!), Banjara (EV)
Standard N. Indian & S. Indian, somewhat upscale: Chola (Midtown East)
N. Indian upscale, good but not extraordinary flavors: Tamarind
Indian fusion: Graffiti (EV), Vermilion (Midtown East) (Indian-Latin)
S. Indian: Tiffin Wallah (28th and Lex) and Tamil Nadu Bhavan (same area)
Kathi Roll: Kati Roll Co. (Village, Midtown), Grill 44 (near 44th and 3rd), Bombay Frankie (near Columbia on Amsterdam)

Coffee & Tea:
St's Alp Tea House (EV and Williamsburg) - amazing bubble tea (try the taro green tea) and a delicious toast with condensed milk
Gimme! Coffee (Nolita)
Ninth Street Espresso (EV, Chelsea Market)
Joe the Art of Coffee (Union Sq, Grand Central)
Abraco (EV)
Kaffe 1668 (Tribeca)
Espresso 77 (Jackson Heights)
Second Stop (Williamsburg)
Zibetto (Midtown West)
Via Quadronno (UES)

Street Carts:
El Rey del Sabor (60th and 3rd, Mexican)
Dessert Truck
Treats Truck
Jianetto's Pizza Truck
Dosa Man (wash sq park)

Caracas Arepa Bar
Macondo (only above-avg Latin American street food - but not an easy category to find) (LES)

Middle Eastern:
Hummus Place
Maoz Falafel

Murray's Bagels
Kossar's Bialys
Absolute Bagels (esp. the mini-bagels)


Old-School New York: Grimaldi's (Brooklyn), John's on Bleecker, San Marzano (Clinton and Rivington), Di Fara (Midwood in Brooklyn), Patsy's East Harlem (only the sit-down operation, not the by the slice part)

Italian-style: Franny's (Brooklyn), Gnocco (EV), Company (Chelsea), Tonda (EV), Keste (WV), Motorino (Brooklyn)

Square: Lazzara's (38th b/t 7th and 8th), L&B Spumoni, Adrienne's (Financial District), Maffei (Chelsea), Ben's (Soho and Village) grandma slice, Artichoke (14th between 1st and 2nd)

Pizza by the Slice:
Sullivan St. Bakery (roman-style pizza served room temperature, not normal slices)
Grandaisy (split off from Sullivan St. Bakery)
Maffei (Chelsea)
Sacco (Midtown West)
That place in Williamsburg
Grandaisy (Sullivan's split-off sister restaurant; try the fennel pizza)

Avra (Midtown East)
Pylos (EV)
Kefi (UWS)

Chavella's (Prospect Heights)
Mexicana Mama (W. Village)
Bonita (Brooklyn in Ft. Greene)
La Superior (Williamsburg)
Tacos Matamoros (Sunset Park)
Tulcingo del Valle (midtown west)
Blue Hill
Dirt Candy (vegetarian, and amazing)
Eleven Madison Park (but tell them you're vegetarian in advance...the mashed potatoes were outstanding, as was their fritatta when they used to have a brunch)
Per Se
Perry St (W. Village)
Buttermilk Channel (Carroll Gardens)


Tapas (incl. int'l tapas):
Stanton Social

Sripraphai (Queens)
Isle Thai (W. Village)
Bodhi Tree (E. Village)

Pegu Club
Buddha Bar
Flatiron Lounge

Turkish Kitchen (Murray Hill)
Ali Baba (Murray Hill)
Beyoglu (UES)

Pure Food and Wine (just for kicks - they're super-creative)
Gobo (WV)
Dirt Candy (EV)

Madiba (Ft. Greene)
Awash (E. Village)

Cool ambience:
Vinegar Hill House
Buttermilk Channel
Per Se
SEA (Brooklyn)

Riposo 46

Riposo 46 is a little bar in Hell's Kitchen that also serves some small plates. We had a wine and cheese plate there as well as as some of their flatbread pizzas. The wine and cheese plate was fairly standard, while the flatbread pizzas came out a little soggy and after what seemed like a long time. All in all highly standard cuisine without anything really interesting or new to commend it. Not bad, but certainly not worth a visit for the food. The bar itself is fairly cute, though, and it would be a nice place to meet a date for a drink or two, perhaps with a snack.

Stars: 2/5 (based on the food)


Pampano, like Dos Caminos, represents a relatively higher-end Mexican restaurant in Midtown East. While the atmosphere on their outside patio was nice, I cannot say great things about the food, which seemed tired. The guacamole lacked zing, and the vegetarian chile rellenos I had seemed overly tangy and without any real compelling flavor. I was disappointed, especially given the prices.

Stars: 2/5

Dos Caminos

I tried the Dos Caminos in Midtown recently, and found it good but not great. The guacamole, for which it is rightly lauded, is excellent and addictive. My huevos rancheros, though, were a little too heavy, and globbed on egg on cheese in a heavy-handed way. I'm not saying that the final result wasn't tasty, but it wasn't inventive or too visually appealing. In addition, the normal ranchero sauce includes bacon, so the substitute was a salsa verde that was probably not as good. In fact, only the salsa verde is vegetarian: both the ranchero and the mole have some kind of meat stock. So that's disappointing.

Otherwise, the Dos Caminos ambience is nice, especially if you can sit outside. Service was relatively prompt.

Stars: 3/5


Cibo on 2nd and 41st has an nice, elegant prix-fixe menu. I enjoyed the bread basket, which had a tasty corn muffin and a moist banana bread. I also liked my french toast, which was not remarkable but was good. The ambience is clean and quiet, and the service is prompt.

Stars: 4/5


My impression of Monkeytown is skewed due to it being the side of a bachelor party, and tipsiness interferes with memory. Monkeytown is a kind of hip, gothic sort of restaurant and performance space in Williamsburg. There are two rooms. The front room is dominated by what looks like a giant paper-mache spider-like chandelier. It is dark and funky.

The back room, also funky, is where performances are held. Four sofas line the walls, and, for our dinner, a photographic presentation was displayed on the walls, Porn for Creative Souls, though the show (and whether it is even photographic) changes from night to night. Call ahead.

We enjoyed the show, which acted as a fascinating conversation piece while we drank our bizarre but highly distinctive cocktails, like a Raul Quincy, which consists of essentially alcholic jalapeno juice, or a Green Screw, which tasted an awful lot like liquorice (unsurprising since its key ingredient, sambuca, consists of aniseed, which is a common ingredient in liquorice). Eating on sofas is admittedly not the easiest thing, though. They're low, they don't give much back support, and the tables don't give you a lot of space. Just a warning.

We also ate enjoyed our creative food. For vegetarian options, we enjoyed a buffalo tofu which was perhaps a little bit too tofu-like and fell a little flat on flavor. Grilled romaine hearts did better and were more balanced. Three cheese chile rellenos were better still, and certainly more interesting with the accompaniment of a pomegranate-almond sauce. Not wholly satisyfing -- certainly not as good as the chile rellenos as a place like Mexicana Mama -- but good, especially given the fun performance art.

Monkeytown is a unique and pleasing place if you want to amuse the mind and inspire the soul all while eating and drinking slightly strange but nevertheless satisfying food.

Stars: 4/5

The Farm on Adderley

I had brunch at The Farm on Adderley, a trendy place in Park Slope that has received much praise for its use of local and farm-fresh ingredients (the term for fans of these is "locavore" apparently :)). Anyhow, it's a great place, with an open feel and a beautiful backyard with graffiti-art decorating the walls of this outdoor space. Large comfortable chairs give you a sense of tranquility.

I had a scrambled eggs over swiss chard, brioche, parmesan, and home fries, which I devoured. I thought the portion might be a touch small, but I guess that might actually be a plus in today's health-conscious age. Fortunately, I also ordered a brioche toast with goat butter and maple sugar, which turned out to be crunchy and delicious, so I did not go hungry!

This is a satisfying establishment that really fits into its surroundings and feels at home with the families and young people that alike frequent it. Our waiter had a hangover and consequently forgot an order of ours, but we forgave him given the circumstances.

Stars: 4/5

Clinton St. Cafe

I had brunch recently at this little cafe in Brooklyn Heights in a charming little backyard. I had a tasty vegetarian croque monsieur (two eggs on top of a piece of fried bread in a cheese sauce). My friend had french toast, cut into an elegant heap. Not much more to say, buthte quality of the food was good, and the prices were right. Quite a nice brunch place in the neighborhood.

Stars: 4/5

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Akdeniz is a lovely, inexpensive, few-frilled Turkish restaurant at W. 46th between 5th and 6th. It came with a high recommendation from a Turkish acquaintance. It delivered on its promise.

I had an addictive loaf of Turkish bread, which is chewy and in its being served in long broad strips that have to be torn, reminded me somehow a little of focaccia. I ordered just two dishes: lebni, a yogurt, walnut, and dill dip, and falafel. The lebni was fantastic, combining the cooling power of fresh, thick fage-like yogurt with a subtle crunch of walnut and a hint of edgy sourness. I wanted to eat every drop of it off the plate. The falafel was good, but not as great as the lebni. Several thick falafels were served with a tahini sauce. Overall, the whole dish was a little too mild for my liking. It was still good, however. The bread and lebni alone made this restaurant return-worthy in my opinion, and merits it a recommendation.

Stars: 4/5


Avra was one of the first places I ate at in New York. I remember having a delightful Sunday brunch there a few years ago, a brunch filled with honey and vanilla wafting through the air on a bed of Greek french toast. I have dreams of oregano fries and Greek-spiced eggs and a lively atmosphere that introduced me to the everywhereness of great New York food.

So it was with some trepidation and some excitement that I went back to Avra for lunch and sampled their more workaday Greek cuisine. It turns out they haven't missed a beat.

Starting with their wholesome Greek bread served with a dipping sauce a little reminiscent of a thin hummus, just about everything was quite tasty. We started with cooked lima beans -- the weakest dish served, because to my taste they were somewhat overcooked -- and moved on to a wonderfully chewy Greek oven-baked cheese. We then tried immensely garlicky (in a good way) zucchini chips served with a cool yogurt dipping sauce. For my main course, I had a delicately-cooked Greek pasta in a fresh tomato sauce and feta cheese. Oregano fries were crisp and as attractive as I remembered them.

Perhaps my only hesitation (though it is one of Avra's charms) is that this food is not particularly fancy, and could easily have been served at a much humbler restaurant. But what you get here is good, well-seasoned and adeptly cooked food in a nice atmosphere and with solid service.

Portions were generous, and prices, if not cheap, are reasonable for a beautiful and lively place in midtown. It's filled with people doing business lunches on the weekdays, and would be the perfect place for a laidback yet elegant dining experience.

Stars: 4/5

Thursday, May 15, 2008


Fiamma is an Italian restaurant in Soho, on Spring St. between Sullivan and Sixth Ave. After you enter and your coats are taken, an elevator takes you to the elegant second floor of the restaurant, filled with curvaciously fluted vases and decanters and snazzy Italian artwork on the walls. A quiet atmosphere pervades the place.

Food was often pretty but unfortunately disappointing in taste. I had a vegetarian tasting. My first course was a white asparagus whose pecorino and mint foam accompaniments did not form a cohesive whole. My second course was a set of fried mozarella and squash blossoms with marinara. These were deep-fried in a batter. The marinara was rich and delicate, with onion accenting and giving texture. But the blossoms themselves did not have the crunchy shell they should have. They tasted like they had sat a little too long, and the oil had sogged up the batter. The third course was a tagliatelle with ricotta inside. The ricotta filling was dense and lemony, but it was just too heavy and simply did not taste that great. My final course was a simple "vegetable dish" that the chef had prepared, full of spring greens (I had called ahead and indicated that there would be vegetarians in the group). This was crunchy and tasted decent, but was hardly anything special. It felt a lot like the hot version of a salad. Dessert was a strange chocolate cake layered on pistachio shortbread and topped with a scoop of basil gelato. Again, not a combination that worked all that well. Though it was inventive.

My companions who ate meat-based dishes had similar reactions, though there were one or two dishes they liked.

Servers had a good attitude, but they also messed up twice, in delivering the wrong courses and in charging us for a bottle of wine they should not have (they corrected it when it was pointed out).

Overall, this is not a restaurant that I'd recommend, given the very high prices and the decidedly shrug-inducing (or worse, perplexing) flavor of the food.

Stars: 2/5

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Ilili is a new Lebanese spot on 5th between 27th and 28th. Sleek wooden lines forming boxes on the ceiling and dark red drapes in the front give Ilili a sleek modern feel. The menu is meant to be shared and structured that way, and has plenty of vegetarian options. Unfortunately, the food is only good, not spectacular.

I'll give quick summaries of the many dishes I tried:

Pita bread - a little too tough for my taste, but warm and otherwise reasonably tasty
Hummus - Good but slightly too sour, and I'd prefer it served warm ala Hummus Place
Baba Ghanouj - competent but somehow not compelling
Warm eggplant - a tasty, tangy take on eggplant, cross sections of eggplant are served with a tomato-based sauce. This dish had a nice texture, and again, shows this restaurant's tendency towards sourness. But overall it was tasty and had me going back to seconds.
Salad with palm - this was a very plain salad, and the palm was good.
Brussels sprouts -- Here Brussels sprouts were cooked with fig puree, walnut, and mint. Tasty, but not as good as the sprouts at Alta. The sauce detracted from the crispness of sprouts that can be so pleasing.
Duck egg with kashkashar cheese - The duck egg is not fertilized. This is an excellent dish, the standout of the table. It's listed under the "meat" section but is actually vegetarian. The dense texture of the egg and cheese meld together seamlessly and have a pleasingly bite and savor.
Falafel - These were a bit dry and did not come with nearly enough Tahini sauce.
Cheese rolls - These spring rolls with a blend of feta and kashkashal cheese was tender on the outside and had a pleasing saltiness on the inside. A moderate winner.

Overall, the service was elegant and the decor enjoyable, but the food only above-average. A qualified recommendation.

Stars: 3/5

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Yakitori Totto

Yakitori Totto is a snazzy Japanese restaurant on W. 55th between Broadway and 8th. On the 2nd floor of the building, Yakitori is of modest size, but has a cool private room with wooden door that does not reach the ceiling, an open kitchen that acts as a bar, and nice if not 100%-fluent service.

We ordered a few different vegetarian things. Wontons with cheese in them were like high-quality mozzarella sticks, except that they used some kind of cheese more akin to swiss. These were tender and tasty. A cold udon noodles with dipping sauce was clear and refreshing. Roasted eggplants were creamy; yams were crispy but seemed perhaps a little undercooked. Green peppers were slightly spicy and had a nice flavor. The sake we ordered with the meal was decent and cheap.

Overall, a very nice atmosphere, and good food. I look forward to trying more Japanese food and expanding my culinary outlook.

Stars: 4/5

Bocca Lupo

Tried Bocca Lupo on Henry St. t Warren in brooklyn Heights today for brunch. Absolutely delicious. This charming trattoria stands on a corner, its sides mostly windows, cheerfully facing the world. Delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice, excellent bruschetta (I tried two flavors: fava bean and asparagus), a clean and elegant sunnyside eggs dish with asparagus and pecorino, and two great desserts in the form of a nutella and banana panino with whipped cream and an amaretto bread pudding with raspberries and mascarpone made for a superb brunch. Every dish was well-conceived, well-cooked, and used top-notch ingredients. And the prices were not unreasonable. Highly recommended.

Stars: 5/5

Friday, May 9, 2008

Croissants at La Tropezienne and Samba in East Harlem

Surprisingly good croissants at La Tropezienne in East Harlem at 110th and 1st -- though it's bread, macarons, and eclairs all left something to be desired (the last the most -- it was kind of mushy). But the pain au chocolat was actually quite excellent: flaky, buttery, and delicious, with pretty decent chocolate.

Stars: 5/5 (for the chocolate croissants) and 3/5 for everything else

Bad croissants at La Tropezienne's E. Harlem neighbor, Samba Bakery. This French bakery's almond croissant was heavy and soggy from the almond filling, and the filling didn't taste that gret either. Bad stuff.

Stars: 1/5

Patsy's East Harlem

Patsy's East Harlem is the original Patsy's, and it exists a series of stores on a block of 1st Avenue between 117th and 118th. I firs twandered ionto the sit-down store, but when I wanted slices, I was directed to the slice pick-up place three doors down.

The slice joint is tiny, just large enough to stand in, basically. I ordered two plain slices -- that's all they had -- and got two slices with tender crusts, slightly runny cheese, and light, bright sauce. I liked the crust, and the cheese was decent, but the sauce was a a little too underspiced for my preference. Good pizza, but definitely not great, and not a destination pizza. Just another slice joint.

Stars: 3/5

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I'd heard a lot of great things about the baked goods at Almondine, a little bakery in Dumbo on Water St across from Jacques Torres chocolate. It can be annoyingly hard to find. I was glad when I finally stopped by, though. The pain au chocolat was excellent -- close to, but not quite as good as the excellent chocolate croissant at Petrossian's Cafe. Its main problem was that it yielded just a little too easily for my preference. The mini-baguette I sampled was similarly very high-quality, if just a little too tough for my pleasure. I also tried a creme brulee that was high on flavor but was a little too thick and heavy for my liking. Overall, though, this is no question an excellent French bakery and a star in its class.

Stars: 4/5


Luzzo's is a rough-hewn Italian pizza and pasta place at 14th and 1st ave. Craggy walls and craggy service reflect a rustic cuisine and a sensibility that takes pride in the humble roots of, for instance, pizza.

And pizza is what Luzzo's is known for. To prepare for it, I ordered a pinenut and greens salad, which came with a balsalmic vinegar dressing that was a touch too strong, though the cooked ricotta cheese ball on top was a nice touch. The pizza I ordered came with parmesan, mozarella, and cherry tomatoes. While the ingredients and crust were generally good, the crust was a bit too chewy. More problematically, there just wasn't enough spice or oomph in either the sauce or the cheese. The whole pizza was way too bland -- even on the salt I think they skimped. This is a pity, because I had high hopes for this place. And at the prices they charge -- $18 for a 12" pizza -- this cannot be justified. For pure Neapolitan pizza, Una Pizza Napoletana and L'Asso are better bets.

Nevertheless, it looks like Manhattan's best pizza overall remains square slices: at Lazzara's and Sullivan St. Bakery (with Adrienne's, Maffei's, Pizza Pala, and Adrienne's coming in as decent runners-up).

Stars: 3/5

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Trattoria L'Incontro

Trattoria L'Incontro is a giant Italian restaurant off of Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria, which, despite its bulk, maintains its gourmet chops. The atmosphere is light and airy, with high ceilings. Families and groups congregate at many of the tables. Room after room opens up as you walk through the place. Overall the atmosphere is fairly casual and inexpensive. The decor is not particularly inventive.

Food was tasty and an excellent value. The bread basket was a scrumptious beginning, and I especially liked the warm pieces of focaccio that looked and tasted a lot like Indian naan bread. The bread came with a tapenade made from sundried tomatoes. An appetizer of sauteed mushrooms was tender but a little underspiced, but my eggplant parmesan entree was well-cooked, simple, amply loaded with cheese, and satisfying. This is traditional red-sauce cooking, but it is done very well.

Stars: 4/5


Despana, on Broome just west of Cleveland Place in Soho, is a small Spanish gourmet grocer and deli which also sells sandwiches and Spanish pastries. I went there to try their vegetarian sandwich, sandwich -- a bocadillo on Sullivan St. bakery ciabatta, and filled with mixed greens, white asparagus, tomatoes, olives, aioli, and, for an extra $0.50 (the sandwich is normally $8.00), some manchego cheese.

Unfortunately, this sandwich did not do it for me. The ingredients were not bold enough or flavorful enough to make it go beyond the sum of its somewhat humdrum parts. The bread was good, but I already knew that.

I also had churros and hot chocolate for dessert. These are two small churros, each about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a normal churro you might buy at a concession stand. They are also much denser and chewier. I found them good but not bursting with flavor. I liked the hot chocolate all right, but it is clearly not a ganache-based hot chocolate -- it used cocoa powder, and did not seem to have been completely mixed (I got a couple of "bits" of cocoa or something in it).

Nevertheless, the grocery part of Despana impresses me a lot more. They take the time to put in small samples of several of their products, including varieties of honey, vinegar, olive oil, and Spanish salsa, that you can taste on small tearings of bread they thoughtfully provide. These were without exception tasty products. That's where Despana has focused its attention, and it shows.

Stars: 3/5

Saturday, May 3, 2008


I went to the original outpost of the now three-chain franchise of this popular high-end Italian restaurant recently. My impressions of it were of a kind of high-end, casual with an glinting edge bistro that gave me an impression of Europe. Mostly middle-aged couples sat at tables and enjoyed the food. Somehow they struck me as the types of people who had heard Falai was "a good restaurant" and were going there for that reason than for the food per se. Though I could just be projecting.

Anyhow, the service was excellent, if slightly fawning. I ordered a buffalo ricotta flan, with pine nuts, cauliflower, and a candied apple to start. This was bland and unsatisfying, and the ingredients did not mesh into a coherent dish.

My second course, a papardelle with trumpet royale mushroom ragu, was considerably better. A nice, hearty, slightly nutty taste to that made me want to keep eating. A side of fig puree provided a touch of sweetness that cut the savor of the ragu and added a tasty complexity to the dish. The presentation of the dish was fairly plain, though, and I couldn't help but think that though I enjoyed this dish, it is not a dish that showed culinary magnificence.

Dessert, though, was something else. Falai's passionfruit souffle is ultralight, airty, subtly fruity, and has sugar coating the walls of the souffle that remind me of candyshops and childhood. This was a really topnotch souffle, no question about it.

Overall, except for that souffle, though, Falai strikes a note of indifference in me, and while it certainly isn't bad, it didn't win a place in my heart.

Rating: 3/5

Bar Veloce

Had a glass of wine and a panini at this cool-looking, narrow bar in the East Village. It's a great spot for crowd-watching, with a mirror at the bar so you can see everyone around you without looking around.The panini - an arugula and cheese sandwich I got -- was just average, but the wine was good and the atmosphere relatively fun, if not particularly comfortable.

Rating: 3/5

Friday, May 2, 2008

Cafe Sabarsky

Cafe Sabarsky is the Viennese cafe inside the Neue Gallery on the Upper East Side. The beautiful wood-paneled room is nearly as it was in 1914 when the mansion in which it was the dining room was constructed. A piano player taps softly in the background as you sip your Weiner Melange (cappucino, basically) on beautiful white porcelain and much on your Viennese pastry. I ordered apfelstrudel (an apple pastry with raisins in it) and sachertorte (gingerbread-tasting cake with apricot filling and a chocolate coating on top). The pastries tasted fresh and authentic -- not too sweet, but quite honest to their original cuisines. Cafe Sabarsky uses quality ingredients. This is a wonderful and relaxing place to spend an afternoon.

Rating: 4/5

Gujarati newsstand place

The Gujarati lunch counter located in the former newsstand is indeed excellent. I went there, and for $8 (not $6 anymore like the link reports), you get plenty of food: two generous helpings of curry, rice, several chapatis (tortillas, essentially), Indian pickle, and a small Gujarati sweet. The curries were a nicely spicy, crunchy where appropriate, oily in a good way, and basically homemade-tasting. The rice and chapatis also tasted simple and good and homemade. This is basically excellent Indian cafeteria food. It's not served prettily: everything's plastic and the surroundings are dingy. Nor is the food the height of elegance or cleanliness in presentation. Nor is this food super-complex or innovative. But the taste is there. And ultimately that's what matters.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Casa Mono

Casa Mono is Mario Batali's tapas bar at the corner of 17th and Irving Pl., in Gramercy. It's a dark and cozy little tavern with the kitchen at the bar, and the waitstaff bustling in the narrow isles to serve their patrons.

Strong, pungent (and tasty) flavors: that's what I took away from my Casa Mono experience. Admittedly, the ensalada mono combined bitter greens with chopped sweet pimiento almonds and slices of a mealy cheese and turned out to be refreshing and slightly sweet. However, ramps were a smooth bitter cut by romesco sauce, and had an addictive, tender-but-chewy texture. Pimiento peppers were oil-soaked and piquant, slightly bitter, addictive, and impressive. Dessert was crema catalan: a kind of slightly thinner creme brulee burnt properly on top, leaving the the cream itself served mostly cool -- as it should be served.

Service was polite and formal, but went out of its way to be accommodating. I sat at the bar, and got to watch the kitchen the whole time, which was a treat. Wine was tasty but expensive ($15 for a cuarto of a wine that goes for $13/bottle).

One caution for vegetarians: they smear the grill with some kind of chicken or duck fat. I have to shrug and just deal with it, because god knows what they do at most restaurants. But if you're particular, you should beware.

Stars: 4/5

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Tried a nice Margherita D.O.C. at this Soho establishment the other day. The pizza crust of this authentic Neopolitan pie was tender and slightly chewy, the sauce mild and slightly bright, the cheese tasty. This is a very simple dish, done reasonably well. I think I prefer Una Pizza Napoletana's version, and *definitely* prefer Franny's, but this is a tasty pizza, and I enjoyed it.

Stars: 4/5

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Pegu Club

An acquintance and I tried Pegu Club in Soho the other night. On the 2nd floor of a building off W. Houston, it's dark, elegant, and kind of mysterious. Low tables, couches and chairs line the restaurant. I ordered a Pegu Club cocktail: gin, lime juice, an orange liqueur, and bitters. This is a profoundly balanced and masterfully made drink. Apparently the Earl Grey MarTEAni, "made with Earl Grey-infused gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and raw egg white" is even better. I'll go back soon and try it.

Stars: 5/5

Piadina: Disappointing

I had dinner at Piadina, a small restaurant for which I had high hopes, since it locates itself on W. 10th St. between 5th and 6th, across the street from Alta, a tapas place I love. The restaurants is effectively split into two portions, with the outer separate from the inner by a narrow corridor adjoining the kitchen. We sat in the inner portion. Here, the ambience is charming and a little rustic, with candles covered with semi-translucent paper wrappers exposed brick, black and white pictures, and lights strung on strings.

For an appetizer, we ordered Piadina, which they call flatbread, and comes in what looks a whole lot like a quesadilla. The flavors of the tomato and cheese inside were good, but not good enough to overcome the fact that the dish was served lukewarm in parts, and downright cold in others.

This was not a trend to stop there, either. Our pastas -- one, a rigatoni with eggplant and the other, a ricotta and arugula ravioli, were also solid in flavor, but served lukewarm. The pasta was a little excessively chewy as well.

So overall Piadina was a letdown, especially given that it has good recipes and a nice atmosphere, but due to disorganization or laziness, cannot serve the food fresh and hot.

Stars: 2/5

A Milkshake at The Stand

The Stand: I had a quick black and white milkshake here, sad that I could not try the toasted marshmallow milkshake it was famous for, because most marshmallows are made from gelatin -- anathema to a vegetarian. So, sigh, I had to compromise and go for a combination of vanilla and chocolate gelato, and experience an incredible milkshake.

The Stand uses il laboratorio gelato, so I'm not surprised it's so good, but you can taste thick, melt-in-your-mouth semi-solid blobs of gelato flow into your mouth as you drink this milkshake. The chocolate and vanilla flavors are weave together and the sweetness is ecstatic, not excessive. A great milkshake by any standard.

Stars: 5/5

Perry St for Brunch;

Perry St: This simple minimalist Jean-Georges restaurant is on the eponymous street, right around the corner from a building full of condos. As I came in, I saw the sparse area, filled with elegant lamps and quietly chattering people, the muted light of a Saturday morning further dimmed by the kind of window shades that look like television static.

When I sat down and got my menu, I was at first skeptical -- it seemed to have few traditional brunch entrees, and the menu was fairly sparse for vegetarians compared to a lot of brunch restaurants.

But my concern was misplaced. The pricing system at Perry St. works by offering two plates plus dessert for $24, with each additional plate for $12. I was offered a choice of wine or cocktail, too, but instead I opted for the -- gasp -- $8 glass of grape juice.

Grape juice? This is no ordinary grape juice. For someone whose last glass of grape juice was Welch, this was a complete revelation. My first glass was a Navarro 2005 Gewurtzheimer grape juice. It's a white grape juice, and it is like ambrosia. It has an amazing fruity, honeyed taste that's mild and clear and light. Later on in the meal I tried the Pinot Noir red grape juice from the same vineyard, and it was even fruitier, with a greater boldness and darkness and depth, though both are phenomenal (in fact, the white is my favorite).

For entrees, I had a tomato soup and a ginger rice bowl. The tomato soup was carefully poured tableside into a porcelain bowl in which a bottom layer of cumin oil was patiently pooled. The resulting soup was homey and slightly tart, with an exotic cumin turn every few sipfuls. The soup was served with a simple strip of grilled sourdough with white cheddar sprinkled on top. The sourdough was crisp initially but turned chewy in the mouth, and worked well to present a contrasting texture to the soup.

The other entree was truly memorable: the ginger rice bowl. This small, exquisitely prepared bowl of Japanese Nashiki rice, gently spiced with ginger (definitely no sting here), each grain delicately separate from the rest and begging to be savored individually, was served with a complement of graceful scallions, a mayonnaise-like emulsion of sriracha with a hit of spicy heat, and an astonishing poached egg, served in a deep fried batter, with a luscious yellow yolk spilling out onto the rice when pierced. The whole thing was amazing in look and taste. Indeed, that was true for the entire meal.

Finally, the dessert kept up the trend of quality. I chose a chocolate pudding, which came served as a multi-layer dessert. Unsweetened whip cream, at just the right soft, smooth texture, covered the chocolate pudding (a chocolate pot-de-creme in reality? probably.), which was a semisweet mixture. The pudding in turn hid a simple chocolate cake at bottom. In one corner of the dessert bowl were piled a small heap of candied violets, which looked nothing more to me than tiny fruity pebbles, which smeared a blue trail behind them as I ate them.

Perry St. is calm and zenlike in its devotion to great tasting food that is pleasing to the eye. Service was similarly professional. Highly recommended.

Stars: 5/5

Friday, April 25, 2008

Reviews: Galanga; Grom

Galanga is a small Thai place off of 6th Ave. on W. 4th St. It was narrow and a little cramped. We ordered a vegetarian spring roll, a papaya salad, a red curry, a pineapple fried rice, and a tofu with broccoli in garlic sauce.

Everything was tasty and light, not greasy. The best dish was probably the pineapple fried rice, with the chunks of pineapple adding just a little sweetness to the nuts and complementing the spices of the rice. The papaya salad was also delicious, although I generally have been a huge fan of papaya salads ever since eating my first one at a street fair in Manhattan a few weeks ago.

The service isn't all that great, with the waitresses barely making any response to your requests, even when they understand them and comply with them. Nor are the waitresses particularly friendly. But for decent prices and good food, that can be forgiven.

Stars: 4/5

Grom, the italian gelato places with roots in Italy, recently opened a second branch, this time in the West Village. I visited there recently, and tasted four flavors: vanilla, hazelnut ("nocciola"), extra noir (dark chocolate), and torroncino (had some kind of nougat in it).

First off, the storefront itself is picturesque, standing there on the corner of the W. 6th and Carmine, two sides open to the night air and the public. The gelato comes in stainless steel tubs that elegantly conceal the cold creamy sweetness within. The line snakes around the side of the store on the sidewalk and ends at the register, where you buy a size -- not a set of flavors. Then you take your receipt and THEN you get your gelato.

The gelatos were uniformly high-quality in ingredients, though not all the flavors were equally delectable. The torroncino was the standout, having a mellow, creamy flavor with just enough crunch in the nougats for variety and pleasure. The vanilla and hazelnut were both tasty, though both were perhaps a little milder than I like. The extra noir really did fulfill its promise and tasted just like an ice-cream-ized version of the valhrona dark chocolate from whence it originates. It has the dark bitterness that dark chocolate has, and that's how you want your ice cream, you'll like it. For me, it looked great but I just haven't developed the taste to love such dark, dark chocolate.

Stars: 4/5

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Walk through Astoria

I've been walking through Astoria recently, and jotting down real quick observations of restaurants that I've sampled across the way. Here are some quick observations:

On Steinway:

El Basurero - columbian restaurant with outlandish decor - bicycles hanging from the ceiling, carnival-esque. Had a cheese bunuelo there, but it wasn't very good.

On Broadway:

Brooklyn Bagel -- had a raisin and wheat bagel here that was very dry. Ugh.

Omonia cafe -- Nice. This Italian bakery had a tasty little rum-soaked sponge cake sandwich filled in with custard. It was soft and moist and alcoholicky -- tasty.

Mundo -- this slightly wacky and small argentinian-turkish joint is filled with paintings that somehow look a little like picasso in 5th grade or something. Anyway, I tried their "signature dish," a set of lettuce wraps with a kind of thick lentil paste with cracked wheat and lemon. This was highly delicious and addictive.

Parisi bakery -- Had an onion roll here, but it was a little hard and dry.

Pao de queijo -- I was a touch skeptical of this little Brazilian bakery just off of Broadway on 30th st. But I tried one of their sugared cornball pastries ("docinho de milho"), and it was a burst of rich, melt-in-my-mouth sweetness! Wonderful! I also had a chewy chocolate ball, filled with a cooked condensed-milk substance ("brigadeiro"), which was also very good. I hope to try their savory stuff sometime soon.

Sac's place -- I had a slice of pizza at this pizza place. I liked the way the slices had sauce and cheese strewn over them, almost in a homemade fashion. And actually, I liked the slices -- but they did remind me a lot of a better kind of homemade pizza, almost like a really much-better version of the kind of white bread pizza a kid might make and heat in the toaster oven. The crust was tender, and the sauce was mild.

On 21st:

Roti boti -- tried a roti from this small Indian buffet, along with a little of their okra curry. Both were competent, but nothing to write home about.

On Dittmars:

La Guli - tried a cannoli at this bakery. All in all, not bad, but the vanilla filling was too rich and dense for me (and I have a pretty high tolerance for rich and dense). Also, the cannoli shells were not quite crunchy enough for me, which is not surprising since they are prefilled with the cream.

Oleput - visited this bar & tried a chocolate chip cookie. Not bad, but it was a shortbread kind of cookie. I don't really like my chocolate chip cookies made out of shortbread. But it was a neat environment, filled with interesting books and mementos, and it would be a fun place to spend some time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wonderful Graffiti Dinner

I had a dinner at Graffiti, and it was wonderful. Graffiti is a sort of Indian-influenced tapas restaurant in the East Village. Entering it, the large stonework representation of Ganesh, the Indian elephant God, catched your eye to the right. The long, narrow, small restaurant is decorated with small mirrors with employees' names written on them, Indian stone and woodwork, and plenty of sticky notes that mention menu items & prices. The whole place is slightly zany, slightly exotic, idiosyncratic, and a find.

The menu is not huge, but they definitely accomodate vegetarians quite well - the chef & owner, who is very charming and was wandering through, greeting (and serving) everyone, helped me with my food and wine selections. I asked for his recommendations for a multi-course meal.

I first got a mango paneer appetizer, which hinted of an Indian mango pickle used in the cooking of the paneer. The paneer was tender, and was served with narrow strips of naan bread scented with cumin, and which were deliciously crunchy.

My second course was a vegetable dumpling dish -- this is normally a meat dish, but the kitchen has a vegetable alternative on request. The dumplings (think tibetan momo-style dumplings) were served with crisp semolina noodle bits (a typical Indian ingredient, though usually in chaat-style snack dishes), and, in a nod to the chef's history in pastry, a touch of grapefruit confit. The spice of the vegetables & the gluten of the wrapper, the crispness of the semolina, and the sweetness of the grapefruit all came together in a surprising and smile-inducing dish.

My third course was a special: an asparagus pizza made with a fried paratha bread with grilled asparagus and wasabi peas. The wasabi peas gave the dish a subtle twist and unexpected crunch. The paratha bread flaked off like puff pastry and melted in my mouth. The asparagus was cooked till tender, and the entree was addictive.

My fourth course was eggplant, beautifully tender and stuffed in between two pieces of Indian paratha bread (not fried like the last course), in a kind of small sandwich. It was accompanied by a lentil soup heavily spiced with mustard seed.

My final -- dessert -- course was a cranberry apple crumble served with black pepper ice cream. I was skeptical of the black pepper ice cream, but it did, as the chef promised, cut right through the sweetness of the crumble, and lend a refreshing contrast to it.

All through the meal I also had a lot of great wine -- the wine list is full of low-tannin wines that are all delightful, from a clean, simple German elbing roter rose to a glass of sherry to finish the night. Well, almost finish the night -- I really finished with a glass of kashmiri tea that had an incredible, sweet almond flavor to it. Amazing.

The warmth of the restaurant, the delightful and innovative cuisine, and the charming owner all the made this dinner a highly memorable treat.

Stars: 5/5

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I went to Elettaria the other night, on W 8th St. between 5th and 6th, just past Macdougal. Its chef describes it as American cuisine influenced by, among other things, Indian spices. The space is a rectangular, with low ceilings made from aged wooden planks, which gives it a homey feeling. At the end of the restaurant opposite the entrance door is the open kitchen, where the chefs prepare the food in a graceful ensemble process. Red velvet curtains frame the staircase leading down to the bathrooms and 2nd kitchen. A large bunch of white flowers and other small mementos pepper the rest of the space, which is filled with small tables, each pretty close to its neighbors.

The menu here is not gigantic -- a handful of appetizers and slightly fewer entrees. I ordered a cocktail off their menu called "8th wonder," which was a bourbon infused with chai and a couple of other ingredients. It was strong and spicy -- not entirely to my taste, but then I need my drinks girly. The complimentary bread was a naan dusted with sea salt, which was chewy, slightly sweet, and delicious.

I ordered a "rice cake" appetizer, which is inspired by the South Indian "iddli" dish. The small rice cakes were ensconced in lentils, tomato, ginger, and garlic. Everything was cooked to the right tenderness, and the combination of the soft rice cakes, the slightly more crunchy vegetables, and the tender lentils made this a delicate and aromatic appetizer.

The entree was a lot more disappointing. I ordered the "mattar paneer" -- in quotes because this dish is actually ricotta malfatti with peas, carrots, and fried onions. The accompaniments were fine, but the malfatti itself was heavy, dense, and kind of flavorless. A poor showing.

Finally, for dessert I got the anglicized "fried milk doughnuts" -- Elettaria's take on the Indian "gulab jamun." They served the doughnuts without the traditional accompanying syrup and instead sided it with a quenelle of chai-flavored gelato. The sweetness of the doughnuts was cut nicely by the cool moist spice of the gelato. The doughnuts could have been more tender, though.

All in all, as much as I wanted to like Elettaria, I was disappointed by it. 1 good dish, 1 mediocrity, and 1 bad dish do not a great meal make. And the prices are not particularly cheap, either. I hope this place grows into itself and becomes more refined over time, but for right now, I can't recommend it.

Stars: 2/5

Friday, April 18, 2008

Isabella's Oven; Boi to Go

Isabella's Oven is a pizza joint that opened up last year in the lower east side, on Grand near Essex St. It's a small and simple place, unremarkable except for the small chandelier hung on the ceiling, a reminder that this place strives for something different. Unfortunately, it does not really succeed. I ordered a pizza that was half "margherita" and half "primavera." The primavera side just had a brunch of fresh olives and cherry tomatoes just strewn on the pizza like a salad. They did not integrate well, and the pizza taste and texture ended up getting overwhelmed. On the margherita side, the pizza was better, but not by too much. The sauce was very bland and the cheese just ok. The crust was the best part, being slightly chewy and toothsome, but it did not redeem the whole. On the whole, the pizza is below-average.

Stars: 2/5

Boi to Go is a vietnamese sandwich shop in Midtown on Lexington between 42nd and 43rd. You can either order a sandwich or a wrap, with a variety of based (pork, beef, vegetable) and sauces (mint curry, etc.), or one of the banh mi sandwiches. It took me several minutes with the guy behind the counter and with the proprietress of the restaurant before they understood my request for a vegetarian version of a banh mi, and they finally concluded that what I should get was a vegetarian sandwich with the banh mi sauces.

It worked, though, and the sandwich ended up tasting quite good. Cilantro, tomatoes, avocado, pickled vegetables, soy and chili sauces, sweet and savory and spicy and crunchy.

This is not a sandwich that ascends to the same heights that Saigon Banh Mi Bakery sandwiches in Chinatown do, but it's still pretty good. It's not quite as cheap as SBMB either -- actully, about twice the price at $8 instead of $4.50. But all in all, still a very tasty midtown lunch.

Stars: 4/5

Monday, April 14, 2008

Williamsburg: La Bonita Bakery, Falafel Chula

La Bonita Bakery is a ninnocuous-looking bakery at hte corner of Grand Union in Williamsburg. It looks like one of many similar bakeries all across New York, filled with cabinets full of pastries that may or may have been sitting there since last May. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try, and had an alfajore, a Chilean/Peruvian crumbly pastry that sandwiches "manjar," or dulce de leche -- essentially a caramelly concoction produced by cooking condensed milk -- between sides of short, cookie-style dough. The dough turned out to be buttery and rich, the manjar sweet and pleasantly exotic. Delightful!

Stars: 4/5 (if I'd tried more this would go higher. though the ambience does leave something to be desired)

Falafel Chula is also on Union Ave, a small joint between Metropolitan and Devoe. This narrow middle eastern establishment, owned by Egyptians, has a short kitchen up front. I ordered the "falafel chula," which was a standard falafel sandwich. This was good but not particularly great falafel. The falafel balls themselves were fresh and had a multi-layered flavor to them. The rest of the salads and sauces, though, were merely good, and didn't come together as well as I might have liked.

Stars: 3/5

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Artisanal for Brunch

I'd been to Artisanal, the cheese-oriented restaurant on Park between 32nd and 33rd once before for dinner. Then I had gougeres (small balls of bread stuffed with cheese), and a pasta dish, both of which had been good but relatively forgettable.

Recently I decided to try Artisanal out for brunch and see if it did better there than for dinner. Artisanal at brunch on a weekend is bustling in a large windowed space. White tablecloths, a large clock above the bar, and an impression of light and motion are what define the space for me.

I ordered ricotta crepes and an eggs en cocotte dish. The crepes came lukewarm if that, and tasted bland. The only accompaniment was a drizzle of sauce around the crepes that simply wasn't enough to flavor the crepes with. The main dish was equally disappointing: eggs en cocotte is a baked egg dish in cast iron. It came with spinach and mushrooms. Unfortunately, they undersalted the egg, and moreover, simply weren't creative with it. My egg was boring.

Service was also decidedly mediocre. Not that it was (entirely) my waiter's fault: he was clearly harried. But when it came difficult to get someone's attention, I knew there was a problem.

Artisanal is a well-known restaurant with a devoted following. Unfortunately, it looks like it's starting to rest on its laurels and letting itself decline. What a pity.

Stars: 3/5

Bellavitae; Al di La


This is a little neighborhood hideaway on Minetta Lane, a quaint offshoot of the fun stretch of Macdougal St. between Bleecker and W. 3rd in the Village. The ambience is casual and a little homey, with a little trattoria-like flair, yellow wallpaper and wooden floors. We had crostini with gorgonzola and chestnut honey. The crostini came out warm, heavy, and spongy. A tasty dish -- though I guess I'm not a huge fan of gorgonzola so I would have preferred a different cheese (though I should have thought of that before I ordered, huh!). And perhaps I would have preferred the bread to retain its structure instead of sogging down. But it was still tasty. We also got a cauliflower dish with pinoli and currants. The cauliflower was cut up into small pieces, bypassing a usual difficulty with roasted cauliflower often being large and unwieldy. The bite-sized cauliflower petals blended crunchily with the other two ingredients. For the entree, I ordered a pasta cacio e pepe, which is a pasta similar to a spaghetti in a cheese sauce with a little black pepper. This rendition is not as good as the dish at Cacio e Pepe in the East Village, but then neither is Lupa's. CeP really should be eaten at CeP. Bellavitae's pasta was aromatic and likeable, but was perhaps slightly hard. Service was friendly and professional.

Stars: 4/5

Al di La

I went to this famed Park Slope Italian eatery, where I sat not at the main restaurant but at the Al di La wine bar around the corner from the main restaurant. That's because I didn't want to have to wait for the main restaurant to give me a table. The wine bar is small and charming, with little arches separating its small entry room from the also-small dining room. Small inverted test-tube lights with exposed filaments (filaments seem to be all the rage right now) compliment candlelight for a vision source.

I was trying to decide between a beet ravioli and a swiss chard/ricotta/egg gnocchi. My charming waitress persuaded me to have both, and, to separate the duo ("to cleanse the palate," she suggested) with a salad. So I did just that, ordering the ravioli, asking for a spring greens salad as an intermission, and then springing for the gnocchi as act 2. The ravioli skin was delightfully thin on roughly-pureed beet with a dark and memorable color. The sauce of the pasta was simple -- a butter sauce, touched with a shaving of Parmesan. This was a simple, subtle dish, and that seems to be Al di La's style. The salad was excellent -- probably the best thing I had.The salad consisted of all kinds of interesting and tasty green vegetables: asparagus, snow peas, peas, string beans, and more, arranged in a deeply verdant depth and dressed in sherry vinaigrette, but not too much. Everything was fresh, crunchy, and refreshing. The bread and butter were excellent too, by the way, with the bread having a beautiful crunch and soft, wholesome inner dough, and the butter being hard but creamy and happily sharp. The bread comes from Royal Bakery in Brooklyn while the butter is standard unsalted French-style (i.e. higher-fat) butter. The final course was the chard/egg/ricotta gnocchi, came in an earthy and richly aromatic brown butter and sage sauce. The gnocchi themselves were slightly disappointing: they seemed a little dull and bitter for my taste, and didn't have the sparkle that the salad had. Finally, dessert was a trio of gelati - cherry almond, fennel, and coffee hazelnut, all of which were excellent (though perhaps the flavors were not quite as complex as I might have hoped) and satisfying. Throughout, service was attentive, friendly, and professional.

Overall, I'd have to say that my meal at Al di La was tasty and satisfying, but did not rise to the godlike levels that I expected. I liked it, but I didn't fall in love.

Stars: 4/5

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jianetto's Pizza Truck

Went to this place a few weeks ago and had some of their midtownlunch-made-famous slices of pizza. It's big, with much sauce and little cheese. The crust had a satisfying oily crunchy-sponginess and the sauce was piquant. What I didn't like was how very fast the slice got cold (I don't think it had been heated long enough in the oven), and the feeling that they had skimped on cheese to save money. This is an enjoyable slice, though, and for a good price.

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Quick reviews: Blackhound, Chikalicious

I had tried Blackhound, a cake-oriented bakery, on 2nd Ave. and 14th St. once before and been disappointed. Today I decided to give it one more chance, and stopped in to order a miniature rum cake. These tiny balls were filled with rum-soaked chocolate cake and dipped in an outer coating of chocolate. How can you screw that up, right? Unfortunately, they somehow did. The small ball of what should have been deliciousness turned out leaden and chewy in a boring way. The chocolate did not synchronize well with the alcohol flavor and the whole thing was a bust. Too bad, really.

Stars: 2/5

I also recently tried the express pudding edition of Chikalicious, on 10th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves. I ordered the vanilla custard, and quickly got a warm vanilla sauce into which a steamed apple pudding was steeped. Overall, this was mediocre. The custard sauce was sweet but forgettable, and the mild apple pudding was the same. Not really worth the calories.

Stars: 2/5

Artichoke: Great new pizza place on 14th

I went to Artichoke, a new pizza place featured on Eating in Translation & (the late) Slice New York recently, and really enjoyed my experience. Artichoke is located at 328 E. 14th, between 1st and 2nd Ave.

It caught me by surprise how small the place is. It's almost a takeout joint. Nevertheless, it has a kind of happy disheveledness about it.

I had a gigantic slice of artichoke & spinach pizza, which was indeed warm and creamy and rich. Though I think the pizza is crafted very well and is a highly-memorable slice, I like things a bit tangier than creamed artichoke-and-spinach, so I can't say it's my favorite pizza. But it was very good. And, I found I liked it even better after it had cooled down a bit. I could taste the intricate spice mixture more clearly.

The sicilian slice was excellent, too, and more to my taste. I loved the sauce, the cheese, and the texture.

The crust of both slices was crunchy and bold and hearty - superb. This is not surprising, since possibly the best thing I ate at the restaurant was a free hunk they gave me of some still warm, just-made bread with some Pummace olive oil on it. The many-layered crunch and folds of the outside, the soft inside, the wholesome aromas... this was first-class bread. I could easily have devoured it alone and been content.

And of course the proprietors were really friendly. This is a great, fun place.

Stars: 4/5

The Vegetarian New Yorker http://vegny.blogspot.com/

Friday, March 21, 2008

Quick reports: Freeman's, Babycakes, Birdbath, Isle Thai, Milk & Cookies, Jack's Stir Brew, Primitivo Osteria

Freeman's - This trendy LES hunting-lodge lookalike occupies a memorable cul-de-sac at the end of Freeman's Alley between Christie's and Rivington. My friend and I were lucky in that we did not have to wait for a table (admittedly, this was on a Tuesday night around 10 pm). We ordered an artichoke dip which came with toasted bread and was delicious. My entree was a good but not special macaroni and cheese. For a drink, my friend and I both ordered French 75s -- cocktails which champaigne in them and which tasted like excellent fizzy lemonades. Delicious. Stars: 4/5

Birdbath: This W. Village cookie house, owned by the same folks that own City Bakery, has tempting stacks of cookies in wooden shelving. I tried the City Bakery chocolate chip cookies at this establishment. Why, might you ask, would I do this, since I had tried them once before and found them just decent? I wanted to give them a second chance. But I found their taste somewhat commercial and unimpressive. Stars: 3/5

Isle Thai - I had a cheap thai lunch special at this near-John's-pizza-on-Bleecker place. A nice starter salad and a tasty curry made for perfectly solid and satisfying if not amazingly complex thai food. Stars: 4/5

Milk & Cookies - this West Village bakery temtped me in with its name and with its heavenly aroma when I got inside. Unfortunately, the chocolate chip cookie which I got did not live up to the billing. It was clearly an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and did not have enough chocolate in it. It also tasted a bit dry. Stars: 2/5 (although I feel like some of the other cookies might be a lot better, and I thought their option of a "design your own cookie" cookie was pretty cool)

Jack's Stir Brew Coffee - Another W. Village dealie, this 27-Zagat rated coffeehouse with black and white pictures of what look to me like its owner and family and friends up on the wall is cheerful and feels like home. I ordered "happy jack" latte with cinnamon and honey, which was mild and slightly spiced and relaxing. I also got one of Aunt Rose's chocolate chip cookies, which came warm right out of the oven (because they had run out; I had to wait 15 minutes for the privilege) and tasted delicious. The edges were slightly crispy and inside seemed like brown sugar, and a little bit the texture of a warm apple sauce. This is a very good cookie, and a great place. Stars: 5/5

Primitivo Osteria: This Italian west of Union Square on 14th is fairly mediocre in ambiance and execution. Mediocre appetizers in the form of bruschetta and artichokes with gruyere cheese (the artichokes were fairly heavily and cooked somewhat artlessly), a mediocre entree in the form of a basil pesto pasta that completely lacked kick and possibly salt, and mediocre desserts (my tres leches cake was pretty forgettable), and the fact that the food took forever to get there... Stars: 1/5